Movies/TV

Last chance for now to see 'Dark Knight' on big screen

[Editor's note: This is a theater update ahead of Jim Stockwell's review.] The screens at Classic Cinemas movie theaters will go dark again after Thursday. In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Classic Cinemas announced it temporarily will close its theaters at the end of the day on Thursday.

"After much deliberation and with a heavy heart, Classic Cinemas has decided to temporarily re-close our locations after the end of business on Thursday, July 9," the post stated. "Our team took pride in implementing the health and safety protocols and received high marks for their efforts. Unfortunately, the lack of new movies and the extra costs have made our current business model unsustainable. We are in this for the long term, so we look forward to welcoming you back just as soon as the outlook improves and new movies are released."

Playing today

We all know that this summer is nothing like ones in the past. Sports are on hold, most communities cancelled or postponed their Independence Day celebrations, and Hollywood is holding off on new releases in hopes for a larger box office take a little later on. Some local theaters have been playing old favorites, so we still can see movies on the silver screen.

Be sure to check out the one that set the bar for all future superhero films: Christopher Nolan’s 2008 epic, “The Dark Knight,” playing through July 9 at Classic Cinemas in Woodstock.

With all due respect to Richard Donner’s 1978 “Superman” (which is an exceptional film and Nolan took some pages from), “The Dark Knight” kicked off a shift in the genre that has exploded over the last decade. Some also will point out that it hit theaters almost three months after Robert Downey Jr. told everyone he was Iron Man; but this film is truly in a class by itself.

First, he uses his 2005 “Batman Begins” to establish and develop the character of Batman. Being a sequel often puts a film at a disadvantage. In my introduction to film course, I explain there are two approaches that filmmakers can employ. One, try to capitalize on the success of the original work or create the initial work with the idea that there will be more to follow.

Nolan obviously went with the latter.

With this approach, he was able to jump right into the story of “The Dark Knight.” The opening sequence of a bank robbery intrigues viewers right away and the film never lets them go for the rest of the 152-minute running time. Since we already know who Batman is (spoiler, it is Bruce Wayne), we don’t need a review of him, we just want to know what he has to do or who he has to stop.

We are introduced to “the clown” (it should be noted he never is referred to as The Joker), played fantastically terrifying by the late Heath Ledger, and Nolan purposefully doesn’t give us a backstory on him. Yes, he tells a few people how he got the scars on his face, but the story is never the same. Nolan said “by not giving him a back story … he is more menacing” and much more formidable against Christian Bales’ Batman.

Giving the antagonist more screen time is nothing new (see Gene Hackman’s performance as Lex Luthor in the aforementioned “Superman”), and many top actors take their turn at it (Alan Rickman in “Die Hard”; Sir Anthony Hopkins in “Silence of the Lambs,” to name a few). Not only did Ledger (with this performance, he became only the second posthumous Oscar winner; Peter Finch in “Network” was the first) and Bale hit home runs, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart and Michael Caine round out a stellar all-star cast.

As we have come to expect from Nolan, the story is rich, detailed and convincingly real. It is improbable that someone dressed up as a bat secretly is patrolling a city from the shadows, but it is not impossible. Viewers will forget they are watching a movie because of the natural approach, the nonstop action will keep everyone engaged, and the acting makes you believe these are actual people.

The influence is far-reaching too. When looking at any of the installments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) or the reboots in the DC canon, the presence of “The Dark Knight” is observable if not obvious. Powerful story, superb acting and consuming action. Though not new, Nolan puts them all together in the comic book adaptation, being a model for others to replicate … and despite being 12 years old, it is still ahead of the curve.

• Jim Stockwell is a tenured instructor at McHenry County College. He looks forward to resuming the role of host for the Second Monday Film Series at Classic Cinemas in Woodstock.

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